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The first pilot activity in the context of the Mare Nostrum (MN) Project took place from 27 May to 27 June 2010 through field work by Carla Zickfeld, MN project coordinator, Stefan Karkow, documentalist, Aliou Sall, Senegalese coordinator, and several collaborators, including Oumar Sow and Ousmane Niang (Click on the name to see the short video). Photos and videos by S. Karkow.

The objective of this phase of MN in 2011 is to build up a solid documentary base together with social actors in the fisheries sector and related activities so as to enhance mutual understanding and trust. The fishermen, women fish processors and marketers and many others involved in the fishing industry and its social make-up in coastal towns are all caught between traditional practices and beliefs and rapid modernisation driven by integration into a truly global economy.

This creates many frictions and is further aggravated by rampant overfishing that affects the very basis of their livelihoods. The erosion of their social and economic livelihoods can be halted and reversed. There is a wealth of experience within the fishing communities and ample possibilities to connect ideas from within and without to work on transformations which can create improvements. Despite the fact that a few people may still be living in a state of denial, rebuilding productive marine ecosystems would be an obvious benefit to all concerned. So, the big issue is not so much whether protecting the resource-base would be good, but rather how to do it. That boils down to a question of how the costs and the benefits will be distributed, a pattern seen across many resource sectors and countries. There seems to be little trust even among different interest groups within the fisheries sector and even less so at the moment vis-à-vis the government, especially since additional licences were granted in May 2011 to foreign vessels, while the domestic operators face major problems and fear they will further loose out in this additional competition over already scarce resources. The increasingly lofty discussions in a series of workshops with international public organisations and NGOs that have taken place over the last few weeks do little to instil a sense that concrete action would be taken to address the open crisis.

So it falls back to the operators in the small-scale fishing sector, the women and the representatives of their professional organisations to demand pragmatic remedial steps and greater fairness and transparency in the way the sector is run. They did that with protest marches in Dakar and with fresh appearances in the European Parliament in Brussels and elsewhere in May and June 2011. They are striving to block inconsiderate privileges of investors, foreign and domestic, who operate with little regard for the long-term viability of operations as their principal concern is a short-term return on their investment. So, today it's the marine ecosystem from which to extract through fishing and marketing, tomorrow it may be something else. When the resource is gone they move on, leaving behind a trail of destruction, as we have already seen in the collapse of one fishery after the other in the North Atlantic and elsewhere. Then the people are left with ghost towns where there were once bustling communities, as is the case in Lowestoft, UK, and elsewhere. It's not too late to act to prevent a similar fate for the fishing communities in Senegal and other West African countries.

It is against this backdrop that the Mare Nostrum pilot work was carried out throughout June 2011. Starting with the documentation of the memories and vindications of the women in the fishing sector, the MN team will produce multi-media and educational documentation, including books, a documentary and later also an art film so as to strengthen the knowledge basis which informs the social and political debate and, hopefully, the choices for policies and action.

In the following pages therefore, summaries of conversations with key groups of fishermen, women in the fishing sector, schools and others will be documented as factually as possible and more material will be added as it becomes available. The intention is to give a greater voice to the directly concerned local actors, whether we agree with all they have to say or not. They are the experts on impact as they experience the negative effects of many previous projects, whose intentions have sometimes been perverted in the course of implementation.

It's time to learn these lessons and and develop practical alternatives that are more robust than previous attempts because they are build on a wider spectrum of perspectives. As a result, one may hope that they also command more support from the different groups involved and/or affected. Most importantly, they may therefore stand a greater chance of being implemented compared to many previous attempts led by technical expert opinion which could not always capture the many unintended consequences in social or economic effects and have thus not always had the planned beneficial effects.

The lessons learnt and perspectives shared below will be carried forward in contexts other than the Mare Nostrum Project, which is now closed.